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The America that Could Be

April 30th, 2010 · 5 Comments

Blog by David Molina, currently serving on the Oregon Commission of Hispanic Affairs:

Before Latinos, it was the African-Americans, Japanese-Americans, and before that, it was the Irish-Americans, and Italian-Americans and “others.” On the day that the Empire of Japan surprisingly attacked our Pearl Harbor, Americans of Japanese descent (Nissei) were expelled from public office, and ROTC students were removed from the program. Over a hundred thousand Japanese-Americans were forcefully removed from their businesses and work and rounded up in internment camps throughout the western United States setting a dark cloud in American history. Just prior, America’s Bracero Program allowed labor to move freely into the US to toil and tend the harvest to bring to American and tables everywhere. When the labor was no longer convenient, became too costly, Mexicans were rounded up in trains and shipped like product back to the other side. Even today, this abusive practice continues, sometimes right before pay day or after the harvest, as authorities raid work sites or employers refuse to pay undocumented workers. Even when Mexican-American WWII veterans were returning from the war-zone, they were harassed and beaten in the streets. Before the turn of the 20th century, Italians and Irish were also discriminated against. They were called mutts, pugs, and other dehumanizing names. Even up until the 1960s and 1970s, African-Americans weren’t allowed in certain public restaurants, public pools and were beaten by law enforcement officials to prove who was in charge, and the racial discrimination set in place generations before continued despite court orders to integrate. Throughout the 20th century, many public locations proudly hung signs, “No Mexicans Allowed” from their business windows. The U.S. Hispanic population surged after 1986, following the signing of the Simpson-Mazzoli Act (IRCA) by President Reagan, and again increased after the 1994 NAFTA signing and peso devaluation. Regardless, U.S. Hispanics have proudly worn the uniform and served with distinction for their country. It’s no secret, this community has received more Medals of Honor than any other American group. The first casualty, regrettably, in the U.S. invasion of Iraq was Latino. Even today, undocumented residents are allowed to serve and have served in the U.S. military with the guarantee of a path to citizenship.

Latinos have never shied away from a fight either against the United States (think U.S-Mexico War) or for the U.S. (Civil War, WWI, WWII, Korean, Vietnam, Persian Gulf, and now in Iraq and Afghanistan). While SB 1070, signed into law last week by Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona, gives law enforcement officials the “green light” to enforce federal immigration policy, as a parallel to 287(g), many speculate the decrease in calling law enforcement to crime scenes particularly with undocumented communities. At the same time, speculation that Latinos will be rounded up after weddings and quinceañeras and at our daily favorite restaurants, we must remember that this new law takes effect in less than 90 days. Latinos have seen this before. Despite massive protests on the streets and letter writing campaigns campaigns, in 1994 California passed Proposition 187 which eliminated public services to undocumented residents and led to major discrimination and hate-crimes against Latinos. In 2007, Pennsylvania made it a crime to rent to undocumented Pennsylvanians leading to a downward economic spiral and an exodus of residents impacting entire cities and county budgets. In 2008, Oregon passed a measure eliminating the issuance and certification of a drivers license to undocumented residents. Obviously, cities and counties are laboratories for the states; the states are laboratories for the federal government. Will SB 1070 language begin seeding in other communities or will it be a wake up call to the serious immigration reform talks that need to happen?

Latinos are the last front in the U.S. By 2040 the U.S. Hispanic population is expected to reach or exceed 100 million when one in four persons will be Hispanic making our group the largest and fastest-growing ethnic/racial minority population group in America. Our purchasing power surpassed $1 trillion dollars in 2006 and is growing at an average rate of four billion dollars per month and 50 billion dollars per year. Some pundits have speculated that SB 1070 is aimed at suppressing Latino voters in the November election. The myth on the street and the cable channels is that Latinos are politically apathetic, while far from it, Latinos are registered to vote at a rate six times greater than the general population and turning out to vote at a rate five times greater than the general population. Giving Arizona law enforcement officials authority to ask for individuals proof of residency may curtail the out-of-control violence on the Mexican side of the border by the drug cartels, but slamming innocent hardworking families in the crossfire, and potentially leading to racial profiling.

If history is any indicator, Latinos are not going away. Piolin Por La Mañana asks his Latino callers every time when they call, why they came to the U.S. and the response is always the same: “a triumfar” or “to triumph, to succeed.” It’s a simple reminder that Latinos aim to be part, contribute and build this country stronger just like African-Americans, the Japanese, the Irish and Italians before. America was founded by hardworking immigrants. As a son of immigrants, from my experience, our family has a love for the United States. I don’t believe we can continue to sacrifice and build this country from the ground up and then tell immigrants that they are welcomed, then compromise that contract as SB 1070 just did.

So where is the America that could be?

I encourage anyone who is bothered enough by SB 1070 and the new push in Arizona to ban ethnic studies and to even prevent teachers with accents from teaching English to get involved. Here are a few things you can do:

1. Boycott Arizona. Avoid traveling there and engaging with business headquartered in the Grand Canyon state.

2. Make sure that you and all of your friends and family are registered to vote and are informed about the upcoming midterm elections — and then get out and vote. Conventional wisdom is that we (Latinos and other Americans) don’t turn out in as large of numbers for midterm elections, but our participation is as crucial as ever.

3. Contact your Congressional Representatives and Senators and ask that comprehensive immigration reform be pursued.

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Tags: African-Americans · Civil Rights · community organizing and activism · David Molina · Government Accountability · Immigration · Iraq War · Latino History · racism

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 HispanicPundit // May 1, 2010 at 10:10 am

    Great post.

  • 2 What The.. // May 1, 2010 at 10:50 pm

    I encourage everyone to read SB 1070 and eliminate the rhetorical hysteria created and fabricated by our so called Latino leaders.
    http://www.azleg.gov/legtext/49leg/2r/bills/sb1070s.pdf

    I encourage all Latinos who would like to become American and believe in American ideals to begin the naturalization process. Its worth it. There is no value in a free lunch…

  • 3 Why Isn’t Barack Obama Protecting White People From Racism & Hate? | ChristWire // May 4, 2010 at 12:50 am

    [...] have no shame casting white people aside to remain in office. They gladly extend protections to any shirtless Latino just off the bus with a bag full of chickens that a white banker with deep ties to the community [...]

  • 4 What the ... // May 5, 2010 at 12:48 am

    Interesting point, since O’Nada’s father actually abandoned him and he was raised by his mother and grandmother. He’s actually are first bi-racial president. O’Nada never addresses his anglo background. Many call him black, by his obvious racial features. Therefore, are we then all guilty of racial profiling?

  • 5 MsAmerique // Apr 25, 2011 at 10:41 am

    I worked at a top firm that is a household name in the US. I was the first African-American (or Black person of any ethnic group) to work in my department; and the firm didn’t see its first Black employee until the 1970s, when they were forced to stop (overtly) discriminating, or face legal action.

    These policies have not changed – they are simply less overt. I hope this is soemthing that we can change together.

    At the previous commenter – Obama is not the first biracial president. He is simply the first OPENLY “biracial” president. Warren G. Harding came before him, though Harding attempted to deny what most already knew.

    Keep in mind that on average, MOST White Americans (that is, those who are not descendants of recent immigrants) have African ancestry anyway (according to their own genetics firms), due to their history in the US. Obama was simply the first to be open about his ancestry.

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